Random Ramblings Vol.16 : The wasted potential of Shining Blade

We’ve all been let done by a company we love before in gaming. A lot of games didn’t deliver on the hype they promised. It’s natural, marketing is built on raising the work of others a notch higher than it is to reel crowds. That’s not what happened that time with SEGA though and their game, Shining Blade. It was something very hurtful for the developers and the game : a waste of truly good potential.

waste

SEGA, I’m really disappointed this time. This was very bad. I have talked about Shining Blade before at several of my posts, even mentioning the original “Gensou no Lorelei” project which thankfully I found at least one of the old sources.

http://andriasang.com/comvmp/shining_game/

Back when this came out, I was hyped for a good Shining game and that seemed to be it. No one was clear about how action oriented it was going to be but I came to terms with it being a more action-y Valkyria Chronicles. It wasn’t even that unfortunately. What’s worse, despite Media Vision co-developing the game, the Valkyria Chronicles designer and Valkyria Chronicles game designer and director, Ozawa Takeshi was present for the project and designed and directed the game, so it could be like Valkyria Chronicles III where quite a lot of II’s quality was kept intact despite some watering down. It wasn’t the case here…what could have happened during development? Could it even be Sawada’s, the producer’s fault?


I was miffed on it being a slight downgrade(that’s what it seemed at first) but it warmed up to me and was engrossed in the story and characters but like the gameplay, the wasted potential of them and their use started waning on me. So I’ll just attempt to fix everything broken with this game.

I’ll say that I’m not even going the route of “make this an A-RPG to fix this” despite Shining Resonance not only existing but also embodying a lot of things that could be done with Shining Blade :

And it would fit with the previous Tony Taka games being A-RPGs, plus it would be a big improvement over them and could elevate the whole Soul Blader mechanic. Just imagine this :

But with the graphics of Shining Blade and Shining Resonance’s battle system. This is for another post though.

First things first, we need to have an order in which to adress the problems and their fixes, starting from the music of the game, to the gameplay and then to the story.

I.)Music

Singing

That was the second biggest misstep in the whole game but it’s an important preface for the gameplay due to the game’s emphasis on music and singing and all that jazz with the Loreleis and how involved they are within the storyline. The first thing to notice is that dispite the story’s themes, the whole atmosphere of the game and how it looked, we had…so mediocre and unengaging music for it. Hiroki Kikuta, the musician for the game is an acomplised musician for sure, hell, his work for the Mana series is great and he was responsible for Koudelka…but his music doesn’t fit with the game, it makes it bland, unengaging, boring and makes you wish you were playing a Mana game or Koudelka. A far better choice for the whole thing would have been Yasuharu Takanashi, the composer of Fairy Tail(among others).

(It also fits due to Blade having some very integral plotline about Dragon’s and…Dragon Forces…;))But even if he couldn’t, you have think about this : how come a game that has music and singing as a central theme and a gameplay element doesn’t implement custom soundtrack? Think about it, when Macross Ultimate Frontier did it, it was revolutionary for the time, especialy when PS3 and PSP had problems with how to implement outside songs. Even the Kamen Rider Climax Heroes games were able to use that and they never had music as a gameplay element. Worse, there’s not even a music test option or the option to listen to the game’s songs.

And finally, the tie-in to the gameplay : the way songs work is way too overpowered and too unfair for the enemy, offering no challenge in an already unchallenging game, just making it less tedious than before.

II.)Gameplay

The way the gamplay uses music is insane and it can be a win button in most cases. Here’s a typical example of your average combat scenario in Shining Blade :

The map is very small and only one area, with no access to more ground, with five very easily defeated enemies and perhaps a boss that can take…one round. Perhaps, there will be a monster making machine but it won’t do much and if the boss is strong enough to have a barrier, it’s broken by a song and is never set up again.

That’s it. No seriously, that’s it. And if the mission has multiple “areas”, not only do the players keep their Mana Crystals to unleash their skills that can decimate everything, they also get their health back.

Overpowered

Yeah…not to mention that the songs used by the Loreleis, while they render them immobile and use all of their Mana Crystals, last during the entiere fight, it’s not even a “once the song’s finished, it’s done” or even better for the game to have tactical advantages “once the mana crystal’s end = song ends, with the maximum mana crystals meaning the player can hear all the of the song”. Not even that. And the effects should disappear when the song disappears. For a game about songs as its gameplay mechanic with a strategic elements, it just fails.

Next, we move to controls which are atrocious and just throw out of the window everything that made Valkyria Chronicles and Sakura Taisen great. Here’s how Valkyria Chronicles II sets up its scheme :

D-Pad : Walk, Move Slowly and silently / Aim slowly and accurately
Analog Stick : Run, Move Fast / Move the aim fast
X : Move camera downwards
Square : Aim with weapon / change weapons when aiming
O : accept / interact / confirm attack
Triangle : Move camera upwards
L : Move camera to the left / quick aim to the left
R : Move camera to the right / quick aim to the right
Start : End character’s turn

It’s pretty good and intuitive. Now let’s see how Shining Blade has set up its controls :

D-Pad : Camera Movement / scroll through menus
Analog Stick : Run, Move Fast / Move the aim fast
X : cancel menu decisions / Pop menu for character’s turn to end
Square : Make a partner tag with you / make a tag partner stop following
O : accept / bring up attack menu / confirm attack
Triangle : Interact
L : Move camera to the left / quick aim
R : Move camera to the right / quick aim

This…this is catastrophic. But it all goes into how awfull the way battles are waged in the game. First of all, each and every character has different stats, that depend in artifacts(instead of weapons and armours) and differ between characters of course, one of the being Movement, meaning how much they can move in the battlefield. That’s neat since movement in VC was decided by the class but now we can have speedy mages, slow tanks etc. That’s good but the way it’s used is all wrong. Instead of having less movement space the second time you use a character due to them being “tired”, a state which reduces the character’s movement speed, attack, hit detection and distance of movement more and more each time he is used during a Player Phrase. Now, being tired means that the attack power just goes down a bit, giving the player time to use the characters skills and end it easily but the movement distance never changes, made like that to easily avoid enemies. It’s especially bad when you realize how small and claustrophobic the environments are and how un-strategic this gameplay decision is. It should be more like the VC games.

Before we move on to the gameplay tidbits, a new control scheme should be shown to give an idea of how the battle should be waged in Shining Blade.

D-Pad : Jog slightly, Move Slowly and silently / Aim slowly-moderately and accurately
Analog Stick : Dash, Move Fast / Move the aim fast
X : Move camera downwards for rangers / crouch for melee
Square : Attack with melee weapon or Aim with ranged weapon
O : open attack menu / accept / interact / confirm action
Triangle : Move camera upwards for rangers / guard for melee
L : Move camera to the left / quick aim to the left
R : Move camera to the right / quick aim to the right
Start : End character’s turn
Select : Tag Partner On / Off

Much better and it makes the whole thing more strategic and has the two main classes of the game, the ranged and the melee, actually have a difference. By making a difference between the melee normal attacks and the ranged normal attacks, suddenly we gain a far more varied way of playing.

Blades vs guns

The rangers, wether they wield bows, cannons or pistols should be able to aim like in the Valkyria Chronicles games and those who wield guns should be able to target more than one enemy, granted the guns allow for that. That way, the weaker and more fragile ranger can do equal damage to the robust melee fighters by doing headshots or other kinds of snipe combat without them ever having to be in the face of danger. Contrary to the current system of “range autoaim + ranged characters >>> melee characters attack stat + better movement distance” which does the game a lot easier. The mages are fine as they are handled currently but the ability to focus their magic into fewer targets should exist for their normal attacks.

The melee attackers should not only be a different beast entirely but also evolve the melee concepts found in VCII since the game focuses more on them and these kinds of battles. The biggest difference should be that the only time the melee guys target should be when they use a skill. The way they attack should be like this : at the start of every turn, each melee guy has a certain number of times they can swing their weapon for normal attacks. That number grows with levels, reaching a maximum number to make a full stylish combo attack. The way the attacks work should be like a normal Action game, the more the player presses the button, the longer the combo with the different animations is. The player can also attack as many enemies with these attacks as he wants, even swing the weapon in the air and hit nothing in any sort of way desirable, either as one-off attacks or unloading a full combo by pushing the button x times in front of an enemy. In order for the normal attack not to be overpowered there need to be two limitations placed : 1.)the player can attack only the number of times the attack allows him to. If it’s just two times for example he can either hit an enemy with a one-two combo or just hit an enemy once, run and attack the next enemy he sees once again using the two attacks of his round. 2.)The attack power of the melee guys should be shown in their fighting prowess but each hit should be a portion of that attack power. Example if the character has 400 attack power and can dish out 400 damage due to that but has a four attack limit, all four attacks should do 400 damage but each should just do 100 to balance things out.

It should be pointed out that these attacks can’t be used if a skill is used and conversly if the player uses a skill he can’t attack in the same character turn. That goes for every character, playable or enemy. Battle items should be wiped out entirely, they just break the game way too much.

Despite the additions above, I should mention that all of the gameplay tidbits from VCII should be present, with bigger arenas at various points of day or weather effects to make up for the size of the arena(like rain to slow down movement, fog to hide the player and enemy units or night for extra stealth etc) with multiple interconnected areas that the characters can move through via a mechanism, let’s just say the VC flags the enemies use to call reinforcements. Not to say that Shining Blade doesn’t do that…one or two times but this should be integral to the gameplay. Not to mention the abiltity to be able to switch characters in the battlefield and add more characters but with a limit. It would also be great if a multi-part mission allowed players to not only change characters but kept injuries and the “deaths” during the mission to make the player think and adjust to each severe situations and use all characters equaly.

win

Unfortunately in Shining Blade everybody is set to be an overpowered monster that can mow enemies down and enemies are few, with crappy defences and worse HP. The enemies instead should be more like in VCII, fierce, stealthy but deadly with status effects and the lot or loud, roaring and unstopable unless the players bring out the very big guns and have the normal guys be cannon fodder to tire the characters while the other two enemy classes finished off the rest and provided several strategic challenges. The enemy should always also be very ruthless and if they indeed have a pawn skip a turn, it should be because they collect “character turns” for later, for a very brutal assault that can wipe out the player.

Finally we are coming around to character-player turns. The way it works in VC is that each player(the player and enemy) have some character turn during their “phase” where they control the individual characters. Each phase has a set of character turns, represented as medals in VC and as crystals in Shining Blade, with each of these object representing a character turn. During a phase, the player can move a character or characters as long as these turns exist, them being the number of playable characters on the field initialy. Then, when the turns are exhausted or the player chooses to end his phase and preserve those turns, the phase shifts to the enemy’s and his character’s turns. And so on. If a player or enemy finish their phase prematurely, conserving turns, they’ll be rewarded by having the preserved turns added on top of the newly aquired turns at the start of their new phase. Also, one can use turns for Orders in VC or better yet for changing characters, forcibly making them retreat so that they don’t die etc, all with an appropriate cost. It’s an intuitive, fluid and fun system.

In Shining Blade it just piles up crystal until the screen fills and this never happens for the enemy. Never. The enemy always get a very set amount of crystals and if he chooses to conserve, he is never rewarded in any sort of way.

totally useless

Orders should have also made a return in Shining Blade to make it even more strategic and a Link attack should be used differently between the two classes but accessed the same way, through the attack menu. Not to mention, the M.O.E.S system should have a bearing to how the Link attacks should work, even going as far as to have some link attacks with three or four people depending on who is linking with who(in the story it makes sense).

Finally, the missions and the menus are trully awful and what’s worse is that we have “towns”…now the towns themselves wouldn’t be a problem if they were a menu a la VC with the people to interact etc but they had to make them and have the character move in them for no reason other than waste time. The missions also should include story missions when the game ends so that we could have a New Game + a la VCII and III. But the worse is yet to come :

THE GAME NEVER USED THE CANVAS ENGINE!!!!!!!!!!

Dammit SEGA, what in the hell where you thinking when making that decision? Valkyrie Chronicles III used the CANVAS engine for the PSP and it was made almost entirely by Media.Vision as well. What were you smoking?

III.)Story

At last, the story. While the Shining games never had any deep story or Shakespearian dialogue, they were fun. This was utter crap for the reason that it’s a crossover fanfiction of the worst kind. The selection of characters or rather some ommisions, some decisions in the storyline and finally the way some characters were semi-retconned ever so slightly is horrible and head-shaking. How is it that only Banpresto can write those crossover stories and they end up being good and everyone else just fails utteryl and miserably.

At least, that’s the thing that can be fixed most easily since SEGA could easily look back at the document books and art books with the new characters of the series(with the new characters of Wind and Blade making appearances in the Shining Wind Artbook with notes on them and bios).

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